Batesville nabs Safe Routes to School grant

Debbie Blank | The Herald-Tribune Dave Strouse (clockwise from left), Angie Johnson, Jen Saner, Geralyn Litzinger, Mayor Rick Fledderman and Melissa Tucker were at one of five tables beginning to brainstorm the best usage of grant dollars.

Grant dollars keep rolling into this area.

Now Margaret Mary Health, the city of Batesville and Batesville Community School Corp. partnered on a Safe Routes to School grant application to the Indiana State Department of Health Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity and will receive $40,000.

Statewide, just six schools and communities were selected to get up to that amount.

Geralyn Litzinger, MMH director of community health, was the grant writer. She was assisted by many of the same community leaders who attended the city's April 10 Active Living Workshop. The application cited barriers to walking and bicycling to school, including the volume of traffic, a lack of sidewalks and biking paths and two schools located on State Road 46 with no safe way of crossing the highway to get to them.

At a Dec. 16 grant kickoff meeting attended by about two dozen, moderator Dr. Jim Roberts, Batesville Community School Corp. superintendent, reported the trio are chipping in money, too, so about $48,000 will be available.

Grant funds will be used to develop and implement a noninfrastructure pilot project that focuses on physical activity, with the aim of decreasing obesity.

Naturally, the grant dollars arrive with requirements. The group must gather travel and and attitude surveys to assess the various modes of transportation used by students to get to and from school and identify concerns and barriers. Technology must be used to encourage walking and bicycling to school.

The timetable is quick. A March 15 progress report is due to ISDH and a project must be completed with all funds spent by June 30, according to Roberts.

Chris Weigel, who assists Litzinger at MMH, attended an Aug. 28 Indiana Walk Summit at which Mayor Rick Fledderman spoke about Batesville's successes. She learned city and school officials don't always work together well. "You find out real quick we’re lucky” citizens and groups collaborate.

The moderator agreed, "What makes our community special (is) that networking that we have. Each of you wears a lot of hats."

He presented some possible projects the core group had tossed around: encourage walking and biking throughout the community and across the life span; provide crosswalk training; implement walking and biking safety programs; promote motorist safety and road etiquette; provide training to teachers, school personnel and parent volunteers; inspect bicycles and make minor repairs; provide incentives to urge walking and cycling to school as well as for recreation, such as pedometers; add more bike racks, especially at the schools; form youth and adult walking and biking clubs.

Groups sitting at Sherman House tables were asked to identify three ideas that could positively impact the initiative and be implemented this spring, then list them on large sheets of paper. Roberts explained, "That will allow us to see what’s popular, what might be doable” and put in a comprehensive plan.

One thought at Litzinger's table was to create an inviting atmosphere for exercise, such as crosswalk art by students and the Rural Alliance for the Arts and leaving downtown white lights up year-round.

Mary Jon McCaig, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce vice president, advised to focus on "what’s obtainable," such as publicizing a safe path from neighborhoods to Batesville Intermediate and St. Louis Catholic schools. Retiree Gary Moeller suggested emphasizing one route from a neighborhood with the largest number of children that is close to schools.

Melissa Burton, BCSC director of learning, reported, "Most of our (ideas) focused on education and involving students," like having students create public service announcements for local radio and TV stations with prizes; offering a bike rodeo with safety stations as well as coaching on some stunts and tricks; and letting older kids teach younger ones how to ride bikes, perhaps after school or at the Southeastern Indiana YMCA.

Parks manager Chris Bradford pointed out, "Pedestrians have the right of way. I don’t think the majority of drivers know that." Persons at his table want to get police involved with enforcement and also find volunteer guards (maybe high school  juniors and seniors or retirees) to help students cross busier intersections.

Many liked the idea of a “walking bus,” which means an adult volunteer escorts a group of kids along a school route to keep them safe.

Each participant placed dots by his or her two favorite suggestions.

Roberts said two projects jumped out – education and enforcement, and mapping out walking routes.

Y director Angie Johnson asked Jeff French, a Versailles Safe Routes to School Committee member, what he's learned. The county surveyor observed U.S. 50 and U.S. 421 in that town, like S.R. 46 here, don’t have sidewalks. "One thing we have to implement … is placing a hawk (high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon light)." When a pedestrian presses a button, the light changes to red with the help of the $250,000 device. He recommended getting one at the 46 and Huntersville Road intersection. 

Community development director Sarah Lamping said, "That’s what we’ve been trying to get," but the Indiana Department of Transportation, which oversees that road, is reluctant. 

The next meeting will either be Jan. 16 or Jan. 23 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Sherman House.

Litzinger asked members to reach out to area organizations because some of these projects are going to need more partners.

Additional volunteers are encouraged. Lamping noted that Mark and Ruth Haeufle “have been very instrumental with the trails through Brum Woods .... It’s kind of from the ground up that people want to get involved” and have approached her. Persons who are interested in joining the Safe Routes to School Committee may reach Roberts at 934-2194.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113. 

Statistics show activity and education are needed

• About 13 percent of children and adolescents are seriously overweight and 17 percent are obese – more than twice the number of youth considered obese in the early 1980s. At least half do not participate in physical activity that promotes long-term health.

• The moderator reported 50.3 percent of U.S. youth meet physical activity recommendations. In Ripley County, 48.6 percent do and in Franklin County, 44 percent.

• Nationally, 48.6 percent of kids are physically active for one or more hours per day. The counties are above that average: Ripley, 57.2; Franklin, 55.1.

• Looking at bike safety, 48.7 percent of youth 5-17 report always wearing a helmet. Local figures are less rosy: Ripley, 26.5; Franklin, 17.7. Roberts pointed out, "We don’t compare very well with the national mark, which is less than half."

• If the number of kids who walk and bike to school was restored to 1969 levels, our nation would cut 3.2 million vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and 89,000 tons of other pollutants annually. This is the equivalent of keeping more than 250,000 cars off the road for a year, said Margo Pedroso, a Safe Routes to School expert, in 2008.

• In Indiana, 1,808 pedestrians and 956 cyclists were involved in collisions in 2011. Seventy-six were killed, 63 pedestrians and 13 cyclists.

• In 2011, over one-fifth of all children 10-15 killed in crashes were pedestrians.

• Two good Web sites: The League of American Bicyclists Safety Curricula, http://bikeleague.org/ridesmart; National Center for Safe Routes to School, www.saferoutesinfo.org.